They may be fictional, but characters in books still have to eat. In Charles Roux’s ongoing series “Fictitious Feasts,” their meals aren’t just abstractions but realistic, sumptuous tableaus that can evoke an entire invented world in one imaginatively rendered dining table.
Roux started the series in 2014, while he was still a student at Icart Photo in Paris. A lifelong reader, he knew he wanted to focus his final project somehow on literature. When he started looking through his bookshelves, it occurred to him that the most everyday activity—eating— could perhaps best express the extraordinary power of storytelling.
“I realized how strong the magic of food was in the literature,” he said.
The photos in “Fictitious Feasts” take a lot of work. Roux collects props from friends, family, and antique stores to create the perfect atmospheres, and he goes to great lengths to find the right locations for the shoots. Once, he traveled to the Italian Alps to find snowy landscapes for a few photos.
Roux even makes all the food in the photos himself. To that end, he’s spent time learning new recipes, including Turkish delight for the Chronicles of Narnia and clam chowder for Moby-Dick. He also eats the food after the shoots—except for some cupcakes he made for his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland shoot: They looked tasty but weren’t as good as expected.
“Doing things all on my own was part of my process because I like to work alone, and I think reading is very much an individual process. The project was all about me and how I felt about the books, about their metaphors and their atmosphere, so it just made sense to do everything on my own—the props, the recipes, the pictures,” he said.
While some of the meals he’s created are only minimally described in print, others, like those in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, are detailed quite precisely. In those cases, Roux is careful to follow the accounts as closely as possible.
“It’s easier, in a way, because you can picture it more clearly, but that’s also difficult because you need to follow every item that’s described, from the blue flower-patterned tablecloth to the fruit in the purple fruit bowl. So I don’t think it’s necessarily easier to follow the descriptions in the books, because it’s more creatively limiting. I had more fun doing Goldilocks and The Three Bears because it was more improvisation,” he said.
Roux has already taken about 50 photos for the series, and he’s currently looking for a publisher to help turn it into a book. You can follow Roux on Instagram.